Rapp said, “Go right ahead.”
“This country of laws,” Kennedy said in a slightly sarcastic tone, “has a long history of curtailing its citizens’ rights during times of war and n
ational emergency. The Civil War is the most obvious example. Lincoln suspended what many would argue is the most sacred law of all . . . habeas corpus. During World War II, the FBI opened any piece of mail they wanted. They listened in on phone calls, intercepted cable traffic, and they did it all without a single warrant. And anyone who is naïve enough to think we treated every POW to the exact standards of the Geneva Conventions has never spoken to a Marine who served in the Pacific. Not every Japanese POW was treated as well as we’d like to believe. FDR, a man who is considered by many to be one of our greatest presidents, interned thousands of Japanese Americans as well as German and Italian Americans. We simply rounded these people up based solely on their ethnicity and stuck them in prisoner of war camps until the war was over.
“Then the Cold War came along, and despite all the people who have tried to rewrite history, the Soviet Union had a massive intelligence operation here in the United States. Joe McCarthy may have been a drunk and an ass, but that didn’t make him wrong on the big issue. It is an undeniable fact that the Soviet Union was engaged in espionage on a colossal scale. They were recruiting agents, stealing our vital national secrets, and attempting to undermine our political process by funding communist and socialist political parties in this country. This little chapter in our nation’s history was not simply cooked up by the alcohol-soaked brain of the junior senator from Wisconsin. So while there are a lot of people in America who would love to embrace compassion and tolerance, and they have correctly labeled Joe McCarthy a bully, they do so by conveniently ignoring the fact that the Soviet Union was doing everything that Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover and JFK and a whole host of political figures accused them of doing.”
Dickerson’s expression soured. “I think on this point we will have to agree to disagree.”
“No . . . I don’t think so,” Kennedy said firmly.
Even Rapp was surprised by how forcefully his boss had responded to Dickerson.
“I don’t want to sound disrespectful, Gabe, but I’m pretty sure I know why you’re here, so I think you might want to hear our concerns before you ask us to risk our careers and possibly our freedom.”
“Fifteen years ago, do you know what we used to do when we’d close in on a suspected Soviet spy? And I’m talking about the ones who had U.S. citizenship.”
“I’m sure you would refer the matter to the FBI,” Dickerson said, showing the hint of a grin.
“No,” Kennedy answered seriously. “We’d grab them . . . usually in the middle of the night, and we’d take them to any number of undisclosed locations, and we’d use every form of interrogation you could imagine.”
“And you weren’t always right, were you?”
“Of the nearly one hundred cases I’m familiar with, there was only one instance where the individual turned out to be innocent.”
Dickerson scoffed at Kennedy’s claim. “How could you be sure?”
“Those groups you referred to earlier. The ones you represent.”
“You know how they like to say torture doesn’t work?”
Kennedy tapped her leg with her reading glasses and said, “Well . . . trust me, it does.”
RAPP looked at his watch. He had a mental list two pages long of stuff he needed to get to, and sitting in his boss’s office trying to persuade one of the president’s closest advisors that torture worked seemed like it might be a waste of time. Rapp had found in his various appearances before the intelligence committees that you were wasting your breath if you tried to convince people in thousand-dollar suits who had Ivy League law degrees that torture was an effective and necessary tool against an enemy who refused to put on a uniform and intentionally targeted civilians. Given the right team and enough time to work on the individual, there wasn’t a person out there who didn’t break, but Rapp had learned the hard way that most politicians preferred an issue and a ready-made talking point to reality.
Rapp had tired of trying to convince people that it worked. He’d come to the conclusion it would be like a major league slugger arguing with fans over why he swung or didn’t swing at a certain pitch. If you’ve never been in that batter’s box, with some freak of nature perched a little more than sixty feet away on an elevated mound of dirt, who was about to whip a hard white ball at you in excess of ninety miles an hour that might or might not hit you in the head, you really couldn’t understand what it was like to decide in a split second to swing or not swing. It’s easy to sit in the stands with a hot dog and cold beer and criticize, and it’s every bit as easy to sit in a federal office building in Washington, D.C., and do the same thing.
In response to Kennedy’s admission that they not only used torture but it worked nearly 100 percent of the time, Dickerson said, “There are certain things I don’t need to know.” He smiled uncomfortably and added, “This is why I advised the president not to attend this meeting. This type of discussion is way off the reservation. Having said that, I sympathize with your position. Does it bother me that I am surrounded by people who want so badly to be liked . . . want so desperately to be thought of as enlightened that they are willing to tear this country apart? Yes, it bothers me. Does it drive me to the brink of madness that there are people in this town who think the way to peace is to afford tolerance to an intolerant group of bigoted Muslim men? People who should know better, by the way . . . Yes, it drives me mad.”
Rapp felt a glimmer of hope. He couldn’t recall the last time he had heard someone this well connected speak so frankly.
“It is utter insanity,” Dickerson said, “that the Justice Department has four men in their custody who we know for a fact helped plan and prepare for attacks that killed nearly two hundred of our fellow citizens. All four of those men were born in Saudi Arabia. Two of them have dual citizenship. Those men know things that could help us find the three men who are at large and possibly information that could help us prevent further attacks. And what are we doing?”
“Nothing,” Kennedy said.
“They all have lawyers,” Dickerson said while making a hopeless gesture with his hands.
“And,” Kennedy said, “I was told the ACLU will be filing a brief this morning fighting any extradition to Saudi Arabia.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Dickerson answered.